Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA is laden with 250,000 liters of illicit AGO – NN

Nigerian Navy says it destroyed Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA because she was found laden with about 250,000 liters of illicit AGO even when it has not been operational for about 2 years.

It said the arrested MV CECELIA was a milestone achievement in the renewed drive to rid the Niger Delta of the illicit crime of oil theft and that the claim by the alleged owner was unfounded.

The Nigerian Navy made the assertion on Sunday in a statement issued by its spokesman Navy Commodore AO Ayo -Vaughan after the owner claimed that Merchant Vessel CECELIA was seized and burnt by the NN.

It said “attention of the Nigerian Navy (NN) and Operation DELTA SAFE (OPDS) has been drawn to the spurious and baseless allegations by the alleged owner of Merchant Vessel (MV) CECELIA who recently claimed that their vessel was seized and burnt by the NN.

“For the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, MV CECELIA has been a vessel of interest and was being tracked for allegations of oil theft. The vessel was arrested on 15 August 2023 with products suspected to be illegally refined AGO at Meco Jetty in Port Harcourt, Rivers State following an operation by the Naval Component of OPDS.

“A press interview was conducted immediately after the arrest, however, the owners of the vessel remained at large. Subsequently, the sample of the products onboard the vessel was taken for laboratory analysis and it was discovered to be illicit AGO.

“Pertinently, the owners of the vessel were at large and did not present themselves to witness the test in line with extant procedure.

“The behaviour of the alleged owner is not surprising, as it has been the practice among oil thieves. In some cases where vessels involved in oil theft are arrested, the owners abscond leaving the NN to bear the cost of keeping and sustaining the vessels.

“This has cost the nation huge sums of money and has constituted serious national security problems. Most of the vessels either sink alongside the jetty or within the channel constituting serious navigational hazards.

“These abandoned vessels have been the major reason why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the past, declared the nation’s ports/waterways as the most unsafe ports in the region. This has been a contributing factor to the high insurance premium on ships operating in Nigerian waters with negative impact on the nation’s economy.
“Suffice to state that NIMASA, NPA and the NN have expended huge sums of money in the clearing of wrecks in the waterways that resulted from abandoned vessels engaged in oil theft.

“The public is to note that MV CECELIA has not been operational and has been alongside for about 2 years. At the time of the arrest, the vessel was laden with about 250,000 litres of illicit AGO. So far 3 suspects have been arrested and have made useful statements while the alleged owners remained at large.

“Additionally, the vessel has no NNPCL or any other regulatory approval to serve as an AGO storage facility. This fact is clearly known to the NN and OPDS as all approved storage facilities are usually communicated to Naval Headquarters by relevant agencies for monitoring.

” It is important to note that the intelligence revealed that illegally refined products are received onboard MV CECELIA for storage. One of the suspects revealed that they usually bring illegally refined AGO in ‘Cotonou’ (large wooden) boats and Geepee tanks and offload into MV CECELIA pending when it will be sold to unsuspecting members of the public. It is unfortunate that this practice has been on without being detected until the recent re-invigorated intelligence-led operations by OPDS and the NN.

“The arrest of MV CECELIA is therefore a milestone achievement in the renewed drive to rid the Niger Delta of the illicit crime of oil theft. Accordingly, the NN and OPDS will not be hindered by the usual antics of the oil thieves. These sometimes include the owners claiming ignorance of the use of their vessels for illegalities.

The NN and OPDS remain law abiding and will continue to carry out its statutory roles of fighting oil theft including destruction of platforms used to carry out the illegalities in line with extant Presidential directives.

The general public should be informed that the NN and OPDS is on the look out to arrest the criminals who conduct these crimes and abandon their vessels.